Recommended Halloween Reading

IMG_1182

 

I’m not generally a horror reader. I’ve read a few more popular horror books, for sure (The Shining, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Dracula) but it’s not a genre I tend to seek out on its own. However, I love books that are a mishmash of genres, and in the spirit of Halloween I thought I’d make a list of my favorite books with a touch of horror–perfect for horror lovers and newbies alike. Happy (almost) Halloween!

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer: this is the first book in Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, which were my absolute favorite reads of last year. An expedition is heading into the mysterious Area X, about which little is known, and its members are referred to only by the names of their roles in the group. Our narrator, the biologist, and her squad are almost immediately met with obstacles they did not expect, and the mysteries of Area X–and how the group members respond to them–continuously challenge her abilities and her sanity. It’s a quick read that’s more immersive than absorbing; it will absolutely keep you up at night, but it’s a very smart read as well.

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville: This book is about a scientist living in the grimly complex metropolis of New Crobuzon, who finds himself pitted against monstrous, dream-sucking moths who are slowly driving the city’s citizens insane. It’s a gritty book that’s equal parts eloquent description and thrilling action sequences, and the author’s fascination with the macabre is evident in his depictions of beings such as the Remade: humans and non-humans who have been transformed into something other for punishment or sick purpose.

Authority by Jeff Vandermeer: Yes, Jeff Vandermeer is in here twice. Yes, this was on purpose. The creepiness of the second book in his trilogy is an entirely different type of creepiness than in the first; without spoiling any of the events of the first book, Authority is slower-moving, more subtle, and deals more with the insidious lurking in the mundane than its predecessor.

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman: I love Neil Gaiman. He’s one of my favorite writers. The first book I read by him was American Gods, and it had me completely hooked. (Although I wasn’t a fan of Stardust. I think I would have liked it better if I’d first read it when I was younger.) This short story collection has plenty of fantasy interspersed with horror, including tributes to Lovecraft and werewolves. I also highly recommend his other short story collection Fragile Things, but Smoke and Mirrors is definitely, in my opinion, more fitting for Hallowee.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk: I feel like everyone has seen the movie version of Fight Club, but not enough people have read the book. (Although the movie is excellent, I won’t lie to you. But you should experience both of them.) Palahniuk’s writing is frequently violent to the point of disturbing, and he’s another writer who can easily unearth the horrific nature of the everyday and the routine, although Fight Club turns out to be anything but.

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link: These short stories are eerie, and have serious staying power. Kelly Link uses different elements of fantasy and fairytales, and occasional science fiction, combined with elements of horror to tell stories that are continuously surprising. As a reader, you’re never quite sure where she’s going with the story until she gets there.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice: Sure, this is a more obvious choice for Halloween than the others on this list, but that doesn’t make it any less good. Twilight has been the go-to vampire book in recent years, but there’s a reason that Anne Rice’s story has endured and held up under scrutiny: it’s well-written, it captures powerful human emotions, and its central characters’ very different moral perspectives horrify and fascinate. If you think you’re tired of vampires, then you need to go back and read this book. (I’m planning on another post soon about non-Twilight vampire books, which is why I’ll stop my vampire ranting here.)

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins: I’ve been singing the praises of this book since I read it a few weeks ago, and it’s a perfect read for the month of creepiness. It’s not really fantasy, or science fiction, or horror, but it is scary and has villains and scenes of gore that will absolutely freak out a reader.

Post-Readathon Recap

IMG_1171

So, I survived my first 24-hour Readathon! Courtesy of the questionnaire from the Dewey’s website, here are my post-Readathon recap thoughts. I’m a little slow on the update–it’s been another crazy week at work. But here goes!

Which hour was most daunting for you?

I wouldn’t really say that any were daunting, but I did cheat a bit. The Readathon started at 8 a.m. my time, and I’d been really sleep-deprived so I didn’t start until about 9:30. Also, again due to the sleep deprivation, I only lasted until about 2 a.m.
Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

I thought that Carry On was a great readathon title, and I think that YA as a whole is an excellent genre for binge-reading. I think most of my best binge-reads have been YA, because it’s a format that’s written to be addicting. I recently binge-read Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, which is one of my absolute favorite books of 2015, and I tend to binge-read Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series every few months. The emotions and high stakes of YA tend to suck you in and help you to forget about any stress you have going on in the real world, because no matter what kind of angst you’re currently feeling, any YA protagonist worth their salt will be feeling at least 1000x more angst at any given moment. It’s the book equivalent of watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Other books I’ve read in the past that seem very readathon-friendly to me would be books that are absorbing, fast-paced, and good quality without being overly cerebral: works like Ready Player One, The Martian, or Scott Hawkins’ The Library at Mount Char would be good picks. I also think that Urban Fantasy would be a good genre for the Readathon–some of my best binge reads have been with Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series.
Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

I feel like I’m too new to the Readathon to offer critiques!
What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I really liked being a part of the Goodreads group during the readathon. They had different chat threads with interesting bookish topics posted every hour, places to post what we were currently reading and what we had finished, and mini-challenges. They also had threads in the weeks leading up to the challenge where you could ask questions and seek advice from Readathon veterans, talk about your favorite reading habits, and list what books you were planning to tackle. It made the Readathon into a group event that you could dip in and out of while still having solitary reading time.
How many books did you read?

I finished two books, read part of another book, and listened to a little of an audiobook.
What were the names of the books you read?

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell and The Wicked + The Divine, Volume I: The Faust Act. I also listened to a little of The Girl With All the Gifts on audio, and was able to sneak in 50 pages or so of A Red-Rose Chain, the ninth book in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series. All in all, by my calculation I read about 712 pages (not counting audio).
Which book did you enjoy most?

I really loved Carry On. I intentionally didn’t buy it until the day before the Readathon and forced myself to wait until the morning to start it, because it’s one of those books where I can tell I’ll be hooked just by the description. It’s a great book for the Harry Potter generation, for people who love magic, and for people who tend to root for the seemingly least likely pairing to get together. It’s about a boy named Simon Snow who is fated to save the world of wizards from a mysterious being called the Insidious Humdrum, and about his roommate and nemesis, Baz, a boy from a wealthy and powerful wizarding family who was turned into a vampire during a childhood trauma. It’s about hope and friendship and love, and about courage and fate and growing up. It’s great. You should read it.
Which did you enjoy least?

I…wish I liked The Girl With All the Gifts more. I’m almost halfway through and I just…really don’t. It’s okay. It doesn’t feel fresh or unique to me. And I can’t get over how the zombies are referred to by fully-grown adults and seemingly intelligent scientists as “hungries.” Really? Hungries? No one could have thought of a better name? You can’t just call them zombies? Or literally anything else?
How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

I absolutely will be participating in the Readathon again! I’m already excited for the next one in April. I think that the main difference next time around is that I’ll start planning earlier, so look out for lots of book obsessing!

Readathon Mid-Event Update

IMG_1169

I was having technical difficulties getting my photos to upload, but it’s all good now. Time for the mid-Readathon update, questions courtesy of the Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon site:

1. What are you reading right now?

I’m about 80% done with Carry On. I love it. I’m at the point where I want to finish it, but I also don’t, because then it will be over. I love the way the romance is being handled–it’s extremely sweet.
2. How many books have you read so far?

I’ve only finished one (The Wicked and the Divine, Volume 1: The Faust Act). It’s a graphic novel, which I’ve only read a few of. I liked it–the illustrations were well-done, and I like the premise about gods reincarnating as pop stars–but graphic novels always feel too short to me. I always end up feeling like I wish they’d been written as regular books and I could just keep reading them.

Also, in my defense of only having read one book so far: Carry On is a long book. I’m on page 413, though, which isn’t too shabby! And I tried to listen some to The Girl With All the Gifts, but I just don’t like it that much. I’m on disc 5 of 11. I want to quit. Should I? I can’t decide.
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

I’m going to finish Carry On, even though I know I’ll be sad once it ends. Then I think maybe I’ll pick back up with A Red-Rose Chain, or maybe get back into The Shadow of the Wind instead. Not sure what my mood will be like!
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Not as many as I thought–it’s actually been really nice to sort of procrastinate everything else and just focus entirely on reading for a day. Interruptions have mostly consisted of texting, laundry, and eating, and I watched half an episode of Scandal while doing those things.
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

How much I love it! I mean, I know I love reading, and I’m obsessive about tracking my reading and picking out my next books, but normally I can’t read more than a few hours in a row–I get restless and always feel like there are tasks that need doing. Promising myself not to do that was actually a big relief and I haven’t felt restless at all.

Carrying On with the Readathon

IMG_1165

 

I decided to start the Readathon with the book I was looking forward to the most–Carry On. And also some delicious pumpkin spice coffee in my Strand Bookstore mug, to keep to the Readathon theme. So far I’m really loving this bookish holiday. It has a really nice sense of community to it: I love looking at the Goodreads thread to see what other people are reading, and at everyone’s picture updates on Instagram, and at all the fun blog posts. And dedicating an entire day to books just has this wonderfully relaxing, warm feeling.

Also, I’m loving my first book choice. Rainbow Rowell has this very cozy writing style; everything feels intimate and relatable, even when it’s about magic and monsters. Simon Snow is the Chosen One, like Harry Potter–but unlike Harry, he’s very self-aware and open to admitting his flaws and shortcomings. His Hermione-esque best friend, Penelope, is a wonderful character, and I’m glad to see that there’s no Ron substitute in the story (I was never a fan of Ron. Sorry.). So far the book is about growing up, and things not turning out the way that they’re supposed to, and I like that. It’s funny but also touching. It’s also strange because I’ve been making comparisons to both Harry Potter and The Magicians while reading it, but Carry On still manages to stand really well on its own. It’s a book that’s an adaptation of the fanfiction of a fictional book based on a different book within a fictional book, but it still feels fresh and creative and new.

I really love the Readathon so far. I’m thinking I need to make this a tradition.

Hope everyone else is enjoying the Readathon as much as I am!

 

Readathon Time!

IMG_1163

As you can see, I have my wardrobe all picked out to start off my first Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon! In the spirit of the readathon, here’s my introduction, courtesy of the questions posted on the Dewey’s site:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I’m reading from the eastern U.S., and it’s chilly this morning! In addition to my Read Harder shirt (I got it from Book Riot!), I have on very warm clothes and fuzzy purple socks.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

By far, I’m most looking forward to reading Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I can’t resist anything that references Harry Potter, that critiques aspects of it while retaining a deep love of the source material (The Magicians by Lev Grossman is one of my all-time favorites, and the fact that Grossman wrote a very positive blurb on the cover of Carry On is promising).
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Um, all the snacks? But especially the spiced cider I got from Trader Joe’s. And also the chocolate I got from Trader Joe’s, because books and chocolate pair very well together.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I have an unabashed love of pumpkin-flavored things. I know that the popularity of pumpkin and pumpkin spice has gotten really out of control, but it’s so delicious that I think everyone needs to just get over it. Also, although I do love beaches passionately, there’s something about cold-weather reading that is very special.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

This is my first time! I love the idea of dedicating an entire day to books, and I think it’ll be a great stress reliever for me. My plan is to update on my blog and on my instagram (I used to hate instagram until I realized all of its bookish uses, and now it’s so much fun) and spend the day switching between books. Although, I may get so absorbed in one book that I spend most of the day on it. That’s an unavoidable possibility.

Hope everyone is having a great readathon so far!

Ready for the Readathon

IMG_1161

Tomorrow will be my first time participating in Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon, and I think I’m ready.

I loaded up on delicious and at least semi-healthy snacks at Trader Joe’s. I hit both the library and Barnes & Noble this week to replenish my reading stash. I have copious amounts of both coffee and spiced cider to keep me warm during the cold weather predicted for tomorrow. And I’ve spent the past week considering which books will serve me best during the reading marathon. I’ve accumulated a big stack, since I’m a moody reader and plan on switching between books a lot, if not necessarily finishing them. What books will I be tackling during the challenge? I’m glad you asked…

The Wicked + the Divine: this graphic novel came out this year, and supposedly deals with gods that continuously reincarnate as pop stars. Since it’s short, I figure that this is the book I have the greatest chance of actually finishing tomorrow.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: I’ve been anxiously awaiting this fantasy YA release since I finished Rowell’s Fangirl earlier this year. Fangirl was about a socially anxious college freshman named Cath whose refuge is fanfiction, specifically fanfiction chronicling the romantic lives of Simon Snow (a pseudo-Harry Potter) and his roommate/enemy, Baz (pseudo-Draco Malfoy, but a vampire). This is definitely the book I’m most excited about getting into during the readathon.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey: this is an audiobook I started a few weeks ago for a science fiction/fantasy reading challenge. I’m about a third of the way through, and it’s okay, but not great. I figure that an audiobook will be a good way to keep reading if I need to take a break and do some cleaning or drive somewhere.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: I’m about a third of the way through this magical book, and I read that third in a sort of trance at an airport. Trance reading seems like a good way to get through the readathon.

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah: I’ve had this book on my list for years; it’s written by a former child soldier about his experiences. It’s also fairly short, so I might be able to finish it during the challenge if I’m in the mood for some nonfiction.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson: I probably won’t read this during the challenge, but I like having the option. It sounds very good, but I’m not sure the readathon is the right time for it.

A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire: this is book 9 in McGuire’s October Daye series. I started it last night and I find this series really comforting, although it’s not my favorite.

Wish me luck! I’ll be posting updates tomorrow with my challenge progress.

Are any of you doing the reading challenge? What are your planned reads?

 

Best of: Summer Reading 2015

IMG_1063

 

For years, summer was the time I was able to read the most, and I’ve been meticulously documenting my summer reading for years. Now that there’s no school to segregate summer reading as a separate entity, I tend to instead track my reading by the month and by the year. Except this year, where I’ve been planning out my reading per season as well (although I am constantly changing and updating my plans, of course). And even though summer doesn’t mean a break anymore, a long stretch of uninterrupted reading, there’s still something special about reading in the sunshine. So here are my top five summer reads of 2015, in no particular order (again, these aren’t books necessarily published this summer, just my personal summer reading highlights–but I do highly recommend them all as unconventional beach reads!):

  1. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: I love books that are unique. Books that can surprise me by circumventing or challenging established genre tropes, or that immerse you completely in a world that isn’t like anything you’ve read about before. The Fifth Season does this extremely successfully. It takes place in the Stillness, a world named ironically, since it suffers devastating disaster events with relative frequency. Its civilizations have developed to survive these events (volcanoes, epidemics, earthquakes, etc) and this shapes both historical precedents and daily life. N.K. Jemisin’s worldbuilding continuously impresses me with every book of hers that I read–it’s just so well thought out. She doesn’t just tell you, hey, this is what this particular culture/island/city is like–she shows you why it developed that way by providing historical and political context. I don’t want to summarize or spoil the plot, but I will say this: the book begins by telling you that “This is the way the world ends. For the last time.” It only gets more intriguing from there. There are people with powers to control the earth, who are feared and hated by the general population; an empire that expanded despite the continuous extinction setbacks; mysterious beings referred to as “stone eaters,” survivalist texts that take on an almost religious significance; and hidden mysteries underlying all of it. If you like fantasy with great worldbuilding, that has realistic characters in a fantastically destructive setting, then I highly recommend this book.
  2. Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt: A thin child living in the English countryside during World War II, too young to fully comprehend the war that is consuming her world and that has taken her father away to fight, reads a book about Norse mythology that helps her to comprehend the horrors occurring far away in her world. It’s part historical fiction, part mythology retelling, and part philosophy. I’m honestly not sure why it’s gotten such low ratings; personally, I was blown away by Byatt’s prose. It’s simple on the surface but has so much depth. I loved the parallels that were drawn between the modern world and the world of Asgard: Byatt doesn’t throw it in the reader’s face, but lets you draw your own conclusions. It’s about the purpose that myths serve humans, how they shape our world, and how they can help us ultimately better understand it.
  3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: I’ve been meaning to read this book for approximately forever. Intertwined narratives, ranging in genre from historical fiction to scifi? I’m completely on board. I was really impressed with Mitchell’s range as a writer; if I didn’t know better, I’d be entirely convinced that each section in Cloud Atlas was written by a different author. The only issue I had was that I liked some of the stories much better than the others (one in particular I absolutely hated). I did, however, really enjoy the challenging aspect of picking up on the subtle ways in which the stories intersected, and I was a big fan of the creativity of not just the book’s structure but the individual stories as well.
  4. All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang: This is a fantastic book for English and Writing majors, anyone who has spent time workshopping pieces of their writing, and for writers and poets in general. It’s subtle and beautiful, and it meditates on the nature of writing, success, creativity, and love. It spends a great deal of time exploring the question of whether writing can truly be taught, and whether an individual’s writing ever truly improves.
  5. Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman: In the past I’ve struggled to finish short story collections–not because they weren’t good, but because each story was so emotional and like a mini-book that I needed time to recover before moving onto the next one. Smoke and Mirrors isn’t like that. Each story is well-done and resonates in a different way, but after you finish one you crave more, so that you keep promising yourself you’ll only read one more before you go to sleep. And then you think, oh, but the next one sounds really good…Smoke and Mirrors has the loose theme of illusion, but the stories are all very different. There’s a lot of fantasy, some horror, and even a bit of science fiction, which I haven’t really seen from Gaiman in the past. There’s also a god variety in formatting: some stories are extremely short, others are a bit longer, and there are also a bunch of poems–some short, some longer and narrative. Some of my favorite stories were: “Changes”–a science fiction story about a scientist who discovers a cure for cancer, but doesn’t realize the profound consequences of the drug’s side effect of switching the patient’s gender; “We Can Get Them For You Wholesale”–a creepy cautionary tale about bargains; “Murder Mysteries”–about a murder mystery involving angels; “Only the End of the World Again”–reminded me of American Gods, in a good way; and “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories”–an English writer goes to Hollywood to adapt his bestselling novel. I also love that Gaiman includes an introduction (with a hidden short story inside!) that discusses each story individually. He explains his inspiration for the stories, where they originally appeared, and how he feels about them putting together this collection years later. I liked getting the writer’s perspective on his own work and hearing about how he gets his creative ideas. I didn’t love every single story in here–particularly toward the end, some felt weaker to me, but overall it was great.

I write about nontraditional beach reads for nontraditional readers